Thursday, October 20, 2011
At last weekend’s first-ever Los Angeles Food & Wine, a 7-foot drag queen danced with star pastry chef Sherry Yard on a Lexus to tracks spun by ?uestlove. Bernardus’ Ben Spungin made desserts out of vanilla cream to look like eight-balls of cocaine. American Idol judge Randy Jackson DJ’d on 60,000 square feet of red carpet.
The word amazing gets abused, often when describing last night’s creme brulee or bone marrow, and more often at events like this. Fittingly, David Bernahl, one of the principals at Monterey-based Coastal Luxury Management that puts on LAFW, is a chronic user and abuser.
“This has been two years in the plotting and planning,” he said on stage during the opening. “It’s the first citywide event of its kind in the most exciting food city in the country. It’s… amazing.”
But here, amazing fits like one partygoer’s tiny sequined shorts. And I’m not talking about the truffle-infused roe at the “bubbles, bacon and caviar” breakfast seminar. Or the foie-gras lollipops dusted with watermelon Pop Rocks by Michelin starred Chicago chef Graham Elliot. I’m talking Carmel-grad Bernahl sharing the mic with Wolfgang Puck (whose partnership and preceding American Food and Wine were key to LAFW’s start), L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jackson. I’m talking legendary Daniel Boulud hijacking a three-way celeb chef demo with a surprise double-dose of lamb terrine and roasted guinea hen, despite being a sudden fill-in – and staying up till 4:30am at the after-after party. I’m talking crisp Roederer Estate President Gregory Balogh saying he crashed Thursday with seven LAFW bracelets on, and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat saying he runs around his vines in his undies.
Most amazing, though, was how many local fingerprints coated this blingy creature. Trying to cross the big tastings without running into an area product was like trying to avoid L.A. traffic – and not just the CLM dream team. They pulled in known quantities like Thamin Saleh and Dory Ford to coordinate things like wines and Brew B’ Que with Guy Fieri, respectively. Wineries like McIntyre, Boekenoogen, Caraccioli, Paraiso and Oh poured. Craig Von Foerster of Sierra Mar had the best dish of the weekend with tender abalone in brown butter. Kent Torrey did his manic-charismatic cheese thing.
The tastings and panels, meanwhile, felt a lot like CLM's Pebble Beach Food & Wine. The biggest difference was the branding, “Where celebrity meets celebrity chef,” which didn’t materialize so much – rather than the Mary J. Bliges and Robert Downey Jr.s of the ad campaign, we were left with Vanessa Minnillo, aka Mrs. Nick Lachey.
That’s partly because the competition approaches amazing. On Saturday, the LAFW events had to duel with dudes named Bono and Bill Clinton. Bon bon, The Edge, Usher and Lady Gaga shared the bill at a 10-year anniversary party for the William J. Clinton Foundation.
That helped make Uncle Kracker’s choice of covers at the Brew B’ Que sound prescient. “You gotta know when to hold 'em,” he sang. Yes, the 70-event (!), Manhattan Beach-to-Beverly Hills slate may have been an eency-bit ambitious, but I think CLM's a few L.A.-leaning tweaks away from a tradition as strong as Pebble's. More power lunches like Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s guest spot at WP24, fewer niche-y $250 Wines of Chateau Palmer seminars.
It was opening night when CLM's Sarah Potter took a moment to reflect on it all from atop her towering heels.
“LAFW changed me,” she said.
She was only half right. It’s like one rep from entertainment giant AEG told CLM Chef Mark Ayers: They’ve never seen anything like this, even here. So make no mistake: CLM's changed L.A. too. And I’ll be most amazed only if they stop making plays like this any time soon.
• Take it from Ray "Mundo" Napolitano. With Monterey Bay Restaurant Week, he says, “don’t just do the experiences, become the experience," Oct. 20-27, www.montereybayrestaurantweek.com.
• Bring on Big Sur Food & Wine Nov. 3-5, and the Gateway to Big Sur at Highlands, the L’Aventure Retrospective at the Lodge, the Grand Public Tasting at Henry Miller. Damn. www.bigsurfoodandwine.org.
• Monterey Plaza (646-1700) launches a “Cocktail College” Thursday, Oct. 20, with Cruzan mix master David Nepove. Continues third Thursdays. RSVP for a free slot.
• Worm your way into Monterey Tequila & Mezcal Expo Saturday, Oct. 22, at Portola Hotel. $60, www.montereytequilaexpo.com.
• Cima Collina’s Harvest Party pours on 2-5pm Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Hilltop estate (62 E. Carmel Valley Road): Money Band, Paradise Catering grub, vintage splashes in glasses, $50-$75, 620-0645.
• Wild Game BBQ 1-4pm Sunday, Oct. 23, at the Carmel Valley Trail and Saddle Club. Last year it included wild boar bourguignon and Sicilian-style albacore. Live music too. Camel River Steelhead Association benefits. $40 tax deductible, 601-9762.
• Krua Thai (655-9797) hosts a benefit 10am-5pm Saturday, Oct. 23, for Thailand communities racked by floods.
• A clean $35's a steal for five courses – like wild mushroom-cornish game hen risotto and poached sea bass – paired with Sierra Nevadas 6:30pm Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Mucky Duck (655-3031).
• A profound kinda pop-up appears 5pm Oct. 29 when Serendipity Farms and PigWizard host a crazy-tasty-but-conscious dinner at The Kitchen in Sand City. The Wiz will roast suckling pigs from Soils to Grow Farms for a lavish, farm-fresh multicourse dinner. Along with the goat caramel tarts with sea salt dessert comes must-watch doc Farmmageddon. $100, 762-9432.
• “I have the simplest tastes," Oscar Wilde said. "I am always satisfied with the best.”